How To Build A Resilient Mind: 5 Steps To Bounce Back

 
 

This piece first appeared on Thrive.

You’re already a resilience pro. In case you’ve forgotten, your track record proves it. Yet the state of the world has been rather… stressful lately. Whether it’s work, finances, or family, here’s how to put the politics aside and push forward.

1. It’s Not An Interruption, It’s The Plan.
 Whenever we miss a flight or catch the flu, we tend to view any misstep in our plans as catastrophic disruptions, knocking us off the path of life progress. 
 
 But what if events, good or bad, weren’t a hitch in your life plan, but a part of it?

At 67 years old, Thomas Edison famously began rebuilding his factory the day after it burnt to the ground. He was quoted as saying, “It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”

You’ve probably heard of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-based technique known as “reframing,” a way of identifying and then shifting perspectives on negative thoughts. Edison’s story shows us that even in the direst of circumstances, if we can look at a negative event as part of the master plan instead of an impediment, we can lessen its impact and move forward faster.

2. Use Your Words
Just how much do words hurt? Focusing on a single negative word increases activity in the amygdala, the fear center of the brain. This prompts the release of stress hormones, leading to impaired brain function. In other words, your brain shuts down, limiting your options. By shifting our vocabulary, however, we can change our brain’s reaction and with it, our situational perspective.

How To: Switch out intense words with softer, more comical variations:

“I have a flat tire. This sucks.” Becomes “I have a flat tire. This is rather inconvenient.”
 “I’m so annoyed there’s no wifi.” becomes “I’m quite displeased/chafed/inflamed there’s no wifi.”
 
 While this practice may seem stupid (preposterous!), it’s the linguistic equivalent of having road rage while driving a golf cart. It’s impossible. With a little practice, you’ll soon realize how much vocabulary shifting lessens the emotional intensity of a negative state.
 
 3. Imagine The Worst-Case Scenario
 This one comes from the Stoics. We tend to think if we lose our jobs our break up with our partner, the world will end.
 
 But really think about it. What’s the actual worst-case scenario?
 
Chances are you’d find work or learn how to be single again. Once we acknowledge that the scary unknown isn’t that frightening (or unknown), we can make moves with confidence, knowing that we have our own backs. 
 
 4. Step Out of Tunnel Vision
Negative emotions, (like the ones associated with failure) cause the brain to revert to survival mode, leaving one of two choices: Fight or run like hell. We were built this way for a reason. If facing a truly dangerous situation, working outside of these options would prove quite risky.

Unfortunately, we’re creatures of habit, continuously applying the same life-or-death methodology to everyday problems. The good news it that while negative emotions result in this type of perceptual narrowing, the opposite also holds true. Known as “Broaden and Build Theory,” our range of options increases when we access positive states. In other words, every time we’re able “look up” from the problem at hand, we’re teaching the brain it has more options than fight or flight. (2)

How you break out of the fear-imposed tunnel vision doesn’t matter. Anything that helps you gain perspective or shift your emotional state, even temporarily, will help you build skills and resources for future resilience.

5. Ain’t Nobody Got Time For You
 Remember that your failures mean a lot more to you than they do to other people. We live in a world where everyone’s the star of their own movie. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ve got a supporting role. Chances are, you’re just an extra. This is not to diminish our importance as individuals, but rather, to increase it by liberating ourselves from a life of decision making based on pleasing others. Life is too short to avoid risk for fear of judgment. Only you get to define failure- if you want to believe it exists at all. So whatever it is, maybe it’s not a misstep but just another one of life’s wonderful experiments.

(1) Bernstein, Andrew. The Myth of Stress: Where Stress Really Comes From and How To Live A Happier and Healthier Life. Simon & Schuster, 2010. 182.
(2) Fox, Elaine. Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: How to Retrain Your Brain to Overcome Pessimism and Achieve a More Positive Outlook. Basic Books, 2012. 56.

How To Make Good Decisions Quickly

This piece first appeared on Thrive.com

 
 

Kosher Sea Salt or Pink-Himalayan?

Ah, decisions, decisions. “Too many possibilities” is a wonderful problem to have but one our antiquated brains aren’t always equipped to handle.

Modern life is a war with choice. We are constantly bombarded with options. Decision fatigue, when the quality of our choices declines over time, seems impossible to avoid. As our willpower wanes, our mental bandwidth is zapped and we begin to waffle over even the most inane decisions.

Indecision is actually a result of mental “cross-inhibition,” when one group of neurons sends out a chemical signal to block out the opposing team’s message. In other words, there’s an angel on one shoulder shouting, “Get to work! You can do it!” while the devil on the other whispers “Netflix… Netflix….”

The good news is that our brains are already wired so that one side will win out, preventing us from spending the rest of our lives in paralytic indecision. The bad news? Sometimes the hardwired side is the one wielding the pitchfork. (1)

Whether you’re used to making the “bad” choice or your fear of missing out sends you into a spiral of “what-iffery” here’s how to retrain your brain and become, as former President George W. Bush would say, a “Decider.”

 
 
  1. Sweat The Small Stuff: When it comes to minor decisions, give yourself 30 seconds, choose, and then stick to your guns. As the neuroscience poets say, “neurons that fire together, wire together,” meaning the more you practice being decisive, the more decisive you shall be. Often times when we do things like ask our dining counterpart what our own tastebuds would enjoy the most, we’re just looking for someone else to take responsibility. Practice the small stuff and you’ll build your decision-making confidence as you learn that your choice, good or bad, didn’t result in catastrophe.
     
  2. Consider That You Already Know The Answer: Recent studies have shown that the subconscious mind actually makes decisions quite rapidly, We get stuck, however, when what our unconscious mind actually wants conflicts with our conscious, logical side. Then we spend an inordinate amount of time convincing ourselves and others about our decisions, arguing for what we “should” want. Which is why it can be a great idea to try…
     
  3. Meditation: If you’re thinking, “Awesome, so glad my subconscious knows but I have no freaking clue,” give meditation a shot. Even just sitting quietly and asking yourself the question at hand will often create enough space for the answer to bubble up. Looking for extra guidance? Try Tim Ferriss’s short but elucidating meditation with Tony Robbins, “How To Resolve Internal Conflict.”
     
  4. Remember that if you have to rationalize it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. As Ayn Rand said, “Rationalization is a process of not perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one’s emotions.” Don’t make permanent decisions based on temporary emotions. When we act against our highest values (choosing cookie over health, lie over truth), our brains throw on the brakes in  an attempt to halt the process. It guilt-trips us in an attempt to prevent the action from happening again. Taking a brief second to step back and ask “What’s really more important” will re-establish the significance of your values, making it challenging to act against them. i.e., move away from the refrigerator when you’re hangry.
     
  5. Know that there really is no wrong option, only the option you choose. Thanks, Buddha. Yes, this requires a bit more woo-woo faith in the universe but take refuge in the fact that all roads do, in fact, lead to Rome.
     
  6. Decide You’re A Decider. Mental states become neural traits, so stop telling yourself you’re bad at making decisions.
     
  7. Lean In: We’ve long known that our thoughts influence our actions, but new research shows just how much the opposite is true: Our actions shape our thoughts. “Embodied Cognition” suggests that, “leaning toward a reward increases the brain’s response to it, and that your facial expressions, posture, etc, all influence your experience and behavior.” (2) Simply put, your brain is not the only resource you have to make decisions, so stand tall and get your body in on the action.
     
  8. Realize You Don’t Have Control Anyway (And That’s Okay): We will never know the things we may have “missed out on;” if returning to the coffee shop 5 minutes later would result in meeting the love of your life or if taking that particular job offer would lead to immense wealth. We can only recognize that living in constant what-iffery will not only drive us mad but prevent us from living our lives to the fullest. Remember the old adage that refusing to make a decision is a decision in itself, so we might as well be bold, lean in, and embrace the lovely, magical chaos of it all.
 
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(1) Chopra, Deepak. What Are You Hungry For?: The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Soul. Harmony, 2013. 50.
(2) Hanson, Rick. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Science of Contentment, Calm And Confidence. Random House, 2013. 115.

Top Image Courtesy of Unsplash

6 Ways To Become A Morning Person

This piece first appeared on Thrive.com

 
 

You stumble into the coffee shop. It’s 6:30 in the morning. The person in front of you is -there is no polite way to describe it- perky.

You hate them. For you, “Hell is other people before breakfast.” Okay, so you’re not that much of a grump, but chances are you eye-roll when you hear someone casually claim, “I’m just a morning person.”

Like it’s that simple.

It is. You’re already a morning person. We all are, we’ve just been trained out of it by lap tops, work schedules, and Netflix. All it takes is a few simple adjustments to retrain your brain and get back in touch with your body’s innate rhythms.

Here’s how:

  1. Get Your ZZZ’s:
    Yes, you’ve heard this one before. In order to be a morning person, you have to wake up refreshed. And in order to wake up refreshed, you need to go to bed early enough to give your body the rest it needs. Remember, unless you’re making up for a crazy all-nighter, your body won’t binge on ZZZ’s: sleep is not a snack food.
     
  2. Take In The Light:
    Light inhibits the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Think of it like espresso for your brain. Get at least 30 minutes of ambient light between 7:00–11:00 am to regulate your circadian rhythm and set your body up to begin melatonin secretion roughly 12 hours later, when it’s time to turn in. Note: While you don’t have to be in direct sunlight, make sure to remove glasses and contacts so you don’t prevent the light from reaching your eyes. Live in a cold climate or have to head straight to work? Invest in a SAD light or LiteBook.
     
  3. Set Your Intention:
    What’s your first thought when you wake up? For most of us it’s something like, “Crap, I have to fight traffic, get those calls done, and face that annoyingly perky morning person at the office.” How you start your day is how it will roll, so adjust your outlook by asking yourself the right questions from the get go. 1. What are you grateful for? 2. What are you looking forward to? 3. What kind of day do you intend to have? Often our thoughts go to “How do I get through this day” when we could be dreaming up how to live them.
     
  4. Hydrate.
     
  5. Kill The Alarm Clock:
    If you’re getting sufficient rest, you’ll be able to wake up naturally with an alarm clock as a back up. No alarm? That seems impossible! First off, an alarm clock is a warning of imminent danger. It should not be the way you start your day. Secondly, they create chronic sleep deprivation. Sleep is the only natural body process we try to have authority over: Would you try and stop your body mid-way through digestion? No! Elimination? Gross! So if you want to be a morning person, get your rest. You won’t be productive in spite of your sleep; you’ll be productive because of it. If you’re not ready to give up on the alarm clock, at least…
     
  6. Say Sayonara To The Snooze Button:
    Ah, nothing brings more simultaneous frustration and relief than hitting the snooze button. Set your alarm for when you actually have to get up, not when you’re evening ambition says you should. Once it goes off, try not to snooze. Yes, it’s tempting, but since the average sleep cycle lasts 90–110 minutes, chances are you’ll start a cycle you won’t be able to complete, leaving you even groggier than before.

Remember, change happens when it’s not forced, so take your time and listen to your body as you adjust to the new, improved, morning-friendly you.

 
 

Why It Pisses Me Off When People Say “Think Positive:" 3 Steps To Manifesting Happiness, Not Madness.

 
 

This post first appeared on Everup.com

The words “think positive” fall somewhere on the spectrum between “things that do nothing to solve the actual problem” and “now you’re just insulting my intelligence.”

I mean, really, thank you for looking up from your phone to provide such deep insight.

Why do these “perk up!” type statements piss us off so much?

Because positive thinking doesn’t work. If it did, we’d respond to our wiser brethren with a, “Gee whiz, you’re right, Sparky!” as we skipped over to the sunny side of the street, our problems disappearing into the wind.

I’m not a pessimist. Churchill was right when he said, “I myself am an optimist, it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” Plus, relentless optimism is a fun way to piss people off. (See above).

My problem isn’t positivity. It’s the Law of Attraction.

First, let me offer a disclaimer in anticipation of a barrage of ironically angry emails. (The Law of Attraction does work! My unicorn just arrived yesterday!) Yes, the Law of Attraction can serve us. Any method that teaches the mind to think more positively enables us to see opportunities we might have missed otherwise.

All true. But when we practice the Law of Attraction, two problems arise:

  1. We begin living in the future instead of accepting the present. The idea, “I should be thinking more positively” is built on an underlying belief that things should be better than they are. If it weren’t, the desire to be more optimistic wouldn’t exist. As a result, we end up repeatedly telling ourselves that we’re not good enough, that we should be further along than we are, that we need more than we have.[1]
  2. If we are harboring a veiled negative belief about ourselves, repeating a positive mantra can make us feel even more fraudulent.

“I am successful” becomes “I know I’m never going to get there.”

“I will be in an awesome relationship” becomes “I might as well start knitting sweaters for my cats.”

We don’t recognize these discrepancies at first. We’re too busy manifesting our asses off. But sooner or later, when things don’t go our way, when the dream doesn’t appear at our doorstep, that underlying belief rears its ugly head. Now we failed at both getting what we wanted and thinking positively.

It must be us! We’re failures!

We’ve perpetuated the negative belief we were trying to eliminate in the first place and no amount of willing, wishing, and hoping is going to get us out of it.

So we’re screwed.

Anything but.

Three things have to happen in order for positive thinking to work in our favor:

  1. Accepting where we are. List out your “shoulds” (I should be in better shape/more successful, etc., etc.) and then write out as many reasons why you really shouldn’t be further along than you are.[1] Maybe you’ve been prioritizing work over six-pack abs, so in actuality, you shouldn’t be in better shape. Maybe you haven’t had the finances to back your business, so you shouldn’t be doing ten thousand sales a month. It doesn’t matter what it is, the point is that it’s okay. Only once we accept where we are can we begin to move forward.
  2. Reframe events as they happen in order to rewire neural circuitry for the positive. The brain needs three positive thoughts to outweigh one negative to compensate for negativity bias. While it may seem forced at first, you’ll start to reframe naturally after a few weeks.
  3. Figure out your mental baggage. Life’s too long to be carrying all that sh*t around. Whether it’s meditation, journaling, or talking it out, once you let go, you can let the positivity in.

And if that doesn’t work, just perk up.

[1] Bernstein, Andrew J., The Myth of Stress: Where Stress Really Comes From and How to Live a Happier and Healthier Life. New York: Atria Books, p. 168.

 

The Frivolous Habit That's Crucial For Productivity


This article first appeared on Everup.com

 
 

We think of our lives in hypotheticals:

If I had downtime to really enjoy my friends, to have that dinner party, to finally take those salsa lessons, then life would really be grand! But right now I’m just too busy with ______.

That blank is killing our souls and our success.

Here’s a secret:

You will not be productive in spite of your downtime.
You will be
productive because of it.

Say what? Yes. Your brain needs play in order to function. In fact, the act of “play” serves as a catalyst for improved work performance and creativity. Here’s how:

Play to Solve Problems
Much of the workday is spent in “deliberate focus” mode, when your brain makes “quick and similar attempts at solving problems.” While that’s great for conquering more menial tasks, fixation can actually block off access to the creative parts of your brain that might hold solutions. IE: More time in the tunnel won’t fix tunnel vision. Play allows the brain to enter the diffuse mode- a much looser, analytical process in which the brain can jump from concept to concept. What kind of play? Anything that gives you a new physical perspective will give you one mentally. Now the “tunnel” opens up, allowing you to see your surroundings and access tools that weren’t available before.

Play for Fulfillment
As human-doings, we tend to get caught up in all the things we should do be doing but aren’t—exercising, dieting, completing that task for the business that we’ve been putting off for months, finally building that Ikea end table. A life of constantly putting out fires, however, leads to a mechanical, “comatose” existence. Not only does play help solve our problems, but much like sleep, it gives our brain a chance to rest from this day-to-day struggle. It’s also vital for re-inspiring the mind. Play is probably one of the most important factors in being a fulfilled human being. This “unproductive” time will act as a catalyst, stimulating and enlivening every other aspect of your life.

Unlearn “I Earned It”
Somewhere in between Tonka trucks and our first college internship, we lost the right to playtime. Only when we’ve checked several of items off the list or reached a certain level of success have we “earned” our play. As a result, most of us spend our time straddling the line between work and fun. But keeping one foot in each world means that we’re never fully present in either. Watching Netflix while answering emails may seem like a good compromise, but your brain isn’t getting the satisfaction of true productivity or the indulgent restoration brought on by five episodes of Stranger Things. Play or work. There’s no such thing as both.

Long story short, play will reinvigorate, reinspire, and give your mind the much needed break it needs in order to perform at its best when required. That activity you think has absolutely no benefit may just be the thing that benefits you the most—so go dance, have that evening out, and most importantly, have fun.

 

How Your Brain Is Making You Fat (And What To Do About It)

Thousands of Americans woke up this morning and declared, “Today is the day I start my diet. Er, well, maybe tomorrow.”

When you start that diet is probably irrelevant anyway. “Only 3 out of every 100 people who reach their goal manage to maintain that weight loss beyond the first year.” Three! Yup, “losing weight” is no longer just an idealistic New Year’s resolution; it’s a daily tradition.

Why is it that human beings can shoot a rocket into space, climb Everest, 
but can’t refuse a piece of chocolate cake?

It’s not a lack of willpower. Processed foods have changed the way our brain chemistry to a point that our bodies aren’t evolved to handle. The good news? Small changes can rewire your brain to stop when full and crave nutritious foods; leaving you slim, trim and healthy.

Don’t Trust The Process
Starting in the 1960s, we began to develop “diet” fare. These processed foods contained ugly things like hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and aspartame. The problem? These foods don’t just change your waistline. They change your brain function, too.

Let’s look at America’s favorite ingredient: high fructose corn syrup. Veggie-in-the-title-aside, corn syrup is pure sugar. Sugar increases insulin, which stops the production of leptin, the hormone that tells you you’re full. What’s more, since your body is desperate to stay balanced, it also begins to pump out the hunger hormone, ghrelin. If you’ve ever eaten a stack of pancakes and been hungry an hour later, this is why. Your brain thinks you’re hungry, even though your stomach is stuffed, so you keep snarfing. Then, the cycle repeats.

Alright, so processed foods ain’t doing us any favors. We’ll just go on a diet.

F* You, Darwin
In order to lose weight, you have to reduce food intake to less than what the body needs to stay in its current form. Sounds simple, but not to your head. Your brain, fearing starvation, wants to stay right where it is, so the drop in food intake triggers the release of neurochemicals that activate the desire to chow down. The real kicker? While your head knows when it’s losing fat, it has no clue when it’s had too much. Damn it, evolution.

But you’re smart. I’ll just eat when I’m actually hungry, duh.

Let’s Get Physical
Most people eat three meals a day. Why exactly do we do this? The custom stems from stuffy European settlers, who deemed the I’ll-eat-when-I’m-hungry Native Americans uncivilized. Then came the 9-5 schedule and us modern day folks learned to eat out of habit, not hunger. A stroll past the pastry shop triggers salivation (and a u-turn), a pizza ad prompts the slippery slope, “I could just order in...” We automatically wake up and break our fasts because our brains are used to the routine, not because we need fuel. Think about it: When’s the last time you were really, really hungry?

Thanks, I’m now convinced my brain is evil and trying to sabotage me. So how do I lose weight?

1. Unless you graduated top three in your class of 100, stop dieting. 
Say what? Yes, dieting is rewiring your brain, and not for the better. The second you put yourself on a strict regimen, deprivation kicks in, setting yourself up for a binge. We want to learn to eat naturally; What the brain and body wants, when they want it, and at the right amount.

 
 

2. Figure out the difference between physical hunger and brain hunger.
How to differentiate. If you have to ask, “Am I hungry?” you’re probably not hungry. If your stomach is rumbling (and maybe you’re a wee bit grumpy), you’re good to go.

3. Stop when you’ve had enough.
Important: this is not willpower based. For god sakes, you don’t have the willpower! 8 am bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed you may have it, but after the world’s worst day at work, when the kids are barking at the screaming dog, there’s no way you’ll be able to push the plate away, just because. Then how?

4. Eat what you want, mindfully. 
But what if what I want is... cheese pizza with ranch? Then eat cheese pizza with ranch. Every day. This plan is awesome! Hold the phone. You have to eat mindfully. Slowly. Don’t compete with your dog.

Both body and brain need to be a part of the eating process to feel satisfied. By being present and tasting each bite, both parties will be content and it’ll be easier to realize when you’ve had enough. Eat alone if possible and kill the distractions. Check in with yourself halfway through and ask if you’re still hungry. If you’re not sure, go do something else for 5 minutes. If you’re still pondering your plate after a mini-break, have at it. You know how fun something is when it’s forbidden? By eating what you really want, (even the crappy processed stuff), your brain will begin to realize that it can have the previously “forbidden” food whenever it likes, so you’ll crave them less. What’s more, since you can have it later, you won’t feel the need to dig in the second something is available to you. Delayed gratification, who knew! Plus, being mindful of how food makes you feel will naturally make your head lean towards healthier choices. If you’ve ever spent a vacation eating junk food and come home to a serious apple/salad craving, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

You Make That Sound So Easy, Don’t You?
Yes, yes, I know, and I’m with you. I’ve made plenty a bat turn after passing an Au Bon Pain. Mental changes, like physical changes, take time. You don’t become an all-star tennis player on your first lesson. You develop the stroke, knock about 1,000 balls to the neighbor’s house, shoot some onto the court to the left, and then you begin to find your rhythm. We make resolutions because we resolve to do it, to find the determination to struggle through something and come out the other side, once and for all.

Want more information, tips or tricks to make it easier to stop dieting once and for all and lose weight? Email me: Cat@CatCastellanos.com

Is Mental Clarity Worth Being The Annoying Gluten Free Person?

Most people assume that if they don’t have intestinal er, “issues” after eating gluten, they’re fine to carb out. Even if you don’t have any stomach problems and test negative for gluten sensitivity, that doesn’t mean it’s not inflammatory. Why? Nothing you put in your body affects just one system. Gluten affects your digestive tract and your brain. 

Tired All The Time? Here's Why. (And How To Fix It)

How many people do you know who wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed? If you're like most, chances are it takes time (and coffee) to get going. This may be the average start to the day, but it isn't normal. We've become so accustomed to ignoring our body's needs that we accept sleep deprived and fuzzy-eyed as standard.

How The NFL's Brain Controversy Will Change The Way You Play Sports

A helmet will save your life, not your brain.

The NFL once claimed, “Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis.” No concussions here!, they said. Quick, look at the pretty cheerleaders! The truth, of course, is a prevalent, extreme form of brain damage known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. 

What Doctors Are Doing To Your Brain (And How To Save It)

Most modern doctors treat symptoms, not sources. Unless you're seeing a trained nutritionist or holistic physician, your doctor may be a nutritionally illiterate, over-prescribing fiend. It's not that your average MD doesn't have your best interest at heart; a lack of nutritional education combined with a cracked, pressure-filled pharmaceutical industry has left the nation's most educated stuck and incapable of providing proper treatment. 

10 Minute Task: Solve Problems, Boost Creativity, & Save Your Brain

What do dogs, New Yorkers, and old people after dinner have in common? They walk. No longer is going for a stroll reserved for Lululemon moms with pimped out strollers. Walking can boost your mood, help solve your problems, increase both memory and creativity, and even reverse disease